Backstroke an art form for Spartans swimmer

A coachable approach offers the potential for success

Swimmer on his back takes a deep breath mid breast stroke
University of Tampa's Parker Knollman showcasing the precision in backstroke he possess that has led to his success in the swim style (Photo: University of Tampa Swimming) 

TAMPA, Fla. – When University of Tampa’s Parker Knollman is backed onto a ledge, he dives off it and is usually the first to the finish line.

The junior swimmer is having a standout year in short-course backstroke events and was recently named to the 2023-24 All-Sunshine State Conference Men’s Swimming First Team — an accomplishment bestowed on the best performers by Florida’s coaches.

This Kentucky native was a natural, swimming face-up in the pool ever since his early training days. But his recent experience with university competition strengthened his passion.

“Growing up, I was just always good at it,” Knollman said, following a Thursday morning practice at the University of Tampa outdoor practice facility. “But once I got here, backstroke was really difficult because you’re outside (and) the sun’s in your face.

“Since I’ve gotten good at it, I stand out with it. So that’s why I really love it.”

Love is translating into success as Knollman won the 100-yard backstroke finals at the SSC Championships in February in 47.53 seconds, and placed second in the 200 backstroke final.

Knollman (right) practices his relay start off the blocks. The backstroke specialist was preparing in preparing for the NCAA Championships in mid-March. (Photo: Alexander Mandarino)

The 20-year-old was not always as fluid in the water as results have shown. He acknowledges that he had several gaps to close.

“So when I first got recruited here, coming out of high school, I wasn’t the best swimmer I would say,” Knollman said. “When I was a senior I was super good on top of the water but I was popping up right at the (turns). Everyone that was beating me was streamlining to the 15-meter mark or halfway at least.”

Streamlining involves keeping the back and legs straight as you go down the pool to lessen drag.

The 6-foot-2 Knollman worked at his craft throughout his first few years with the Spartans, taking top spot in the 100 backstroke timed finals at the Shark Invitational in Davie, Fla., last October, as well as first place in the 200 backstroke finals at the Gamecock Invitational in South Carolina in November.

“So my past three years, I really tried to work my underwaters and I’ve definitely seen a lot of improvement on it,” he said, “and it’s definitely helped.”

Knollman pauses during a break in practice to grab some water and reset before further training (Photo: Alexander Mandarino)

University of Tampa assistant swim coach Phil Murray has noticed the improvements and credits Knollman for making the adjustments needed to push the boundaries.

“When he first came in as a freshman he was extremely raw. He didn’t have much of a true swimming background,” Murray said following Thursday morning’s practice. “We were able to kind of mould him into this, what he is now.

“He had significant drops (in time) over his time here. A lot of it is just, he was willing to listen to what we were doing and was very coachable and that’s what helped carry over to what we see now.”

With the NCAA Division II Championships coming up next week, Knollman is looking to help his third-ranked Tampa squad, participating in the maximum seven events, including the 100 and 200 backstroke.

“I’m really looking at helping my team the best I can,” he said. “Just scoring as many points as I can so we can hopefully bring home a championship.”

About this article

Posted: Mar 10 2024 7:00 pm
Filed under: Sports Swimming